I love the original research from the Pew Internet & American Life Project. They focus on providing reliable and independent metrics on many aspects of online life and its influence on society. Often new reports that come out from the Project generate buzz and the report producers and Project Director Lee Rainie are in demand as spokespeople on report findings.
Earlier this week, a new report entitled “Buzz, Blogs and Beyond: The Internet and the National Discourse in the Fall of 2004” was released. The press release announcing the report is here. The study, produced with a company called BuzzMetrics, employed new word-of-mouth tracking and cross-media correspondence techniques to examine the impact of online buzz on the national agenda during the last two months of the 2004 presidential election. It is fascinating stuff and worth a read. The full (free) report is available here.
Predictably, elements of big media have (again) gotten their collective knickers in a twist by insisting on comparing blogs to traditional media. Guess what? Blogs and traditional media are different! It is not one vs. another: Blogs and big media can and should coexist. For example, check out a Reuters story titled "Study: Blogs haven't displaced media" which focuses on this one issue. While the researchers charted the popularity of certain topics which attracted buzz during the fall campaign across four channels of communication - blogs, citizen chat rooms, the mainstream media, and the national campaigns - this wasn’t done to see if blogs “displace” media. In fact, the study’s executive summary doesn’t say anything about “dispelling the notion that blogs are replacing traditional media” as stated in the Reuters story and I couldn’t find any reference to it in the report.
Unfortunately, many journalists continue to think of the Web as a sprawling online newspaper, which justifies their need to (negatively) compare blogging to what they do. The metaphor of the Web as a newspaper is inaccurate on many levels, particularly when trying to understand blogs. It is better to think of the Web as a huge city teaming with individuals and blogs as the sounds of independent voices just like the street corner soapbox preacher or that friend of yours who always recommends the best books.
Since this and other Pew reports generate so much interesting buzz in their own right, I have a suggestion for the good people at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The next time you release a study like this, it would be cool to analyze the real-time viral effect waves that happen upon the release. It would be fascinating to understand how traditional media outlets find out about the report, which media outlets write about it, what they say, the accuracy of the stories, and which bloggers pick it up and when. I’d like to see a graph in the hours and days after release showing buzz. It would also be fascinating to learn how many reporters, editors and bloggers actually read the report vs. pick up tidbits that they read and comment on that instead of doing the work of combing through the report itself.
Interesting stuff indeed!